(Versione in inglese dell'articoloIl sesso nel Medioevo, tra leggende e verità)
The new book by Jacques Rossiaud (Sexualités au Moyen age, éd. Jean-Paul Gisserot) focuses on sexual practices in the Middle Ages and has quickly become a very debated issue in the net. This essay analyses and describes sexual habits and beliefs, disproving some clichés on this subject and disclosing some curious and strange information.
Here are some examples.Abstinence
No sex between husband and wife for Christmas, Easter and on the Assumption Day – but in these days brothels could work regularly.
Up to the 12th century the missionary position is the only one allowed, considered as the most suitable for procreation (“deviant positions excite God’s anger”). Later tolerance increased, but a position remained inadmissible, the so-called “erotic horse” (with the woman above): theologians condemn it and doctors consider it even dangerous.
Prostitution is accepted as the lesser evil: it is better for men to meet prostitutes rather than corrupt their wives or, even worse, have their satisfaction on their own. For this reason brothels are open during the whole year (except on Good Friday) and are frequented by priests too: in the 15th century 20% of the habitués are clergymen.
Contraceptive methods are various and very often ineffective: from amulets to genuflections, from decoction of lettuce to injections of icy water (“to cool semen”).
An invention of the Renaissance (but we already knew that!).
It is variably condemned: unexpectedly it is almost tolerated for women, but it is absolutely opposed for men, for whom “it is worse than eating meat on Fridays”.
How many times?
According to a very common advice, no sexual intercourses should not be more than two in a week: “too many orgasms shorten life, exhaust the body, reduce the brain and destroy the eyes”.
Vow of chastity
Chastity of priests is not so much hold in consideration: the bishop of Lincoln, questioned by an unsatisfied wife, suggests this solution: «Do you want your husband to recover his passion? I’ll ordain him as a priest. As soon as a man becomes priest, he burns with passion!».
The right moment
According to Platinum, humanist and papal librarian in the mid-16th century, “sex has to be avoided when someone is full of wine or of other kinds of meat”, but also “someone shouldn’t do it on an empty stomach or being very hungry”. So when? “The right moment for it is when food has almost been digested, when someone doesn’t want to sleep or wants to do something different”.
Actually all sexual relations not devoted to procreation – from oral sex to masturbation – are called “sins of sodomy”. Homosexuality is violently condemned only from the 12th century on: Thomas Aquinas defines the sin of sodomy as terrible as cannibalism.
According to a statute of the town of Belluno dated 1428, “no woman older than 20 can be supposed to be virgin, unless her chastity can be proved”.
It is natural!
Notwithstanding all these points, sex is considered something natural, a “gift of creation”: according to Guillaume de Conches, (philosopher of the 12th century, “only hypocrites ignore it”.